Esquire eInk Abuse Exposed

Esquire Magazine Covers 75 years ago and today image

Image credit: James Ebbinger and Esquire
Esquire Magazine: the Darth Vader of Electronic Reading
Perhaps inevitably, eInk is already being turned to the Dark Side. The Darth Vader of eInk: Esquire Magazine. To celebrate 75 years of Esquire History, or perhaps in a desperate attempt to prove to the wired generation that magazines can be high tech too, Esquire will sport an electronic ink cover on its September Issue. Except for the few copies destined for the Smithsonian and other collections, that will be a 100,000 electronic pages which will be e-waste at latest when the battery runs out after 90 days. Is there hope of redemption from this environmental faux pas?Electronic Ink before Esquire
Is eInk an impending environmental disaster? eInk, the (r)evolutionary technology which enables low-power electronic presentation of texts, and which has been heralded as the successor to Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge (BOOK), has met with mixed reviews in the sustainability community. "Will it be just another electronic gadget, leading to new cycles of consumerism and waste?" we asked ourselves. "Or will it end the processing of trees into short-lived periodicals?"

Ford Sponsors Esquire eInk Cover
Esquire has cooperated with E Ink, the company that produces the technology used in Amazon's Kindle, to produce the magazine cover billboards, which will perform the somewhat underwhelming feat of flashing "The 21st Century Begins Now". Ford will sponsor the gimmick, defraying the outlandish expense with an advertisement on the inside of the cover showing the new Ford minivan-sport utility vehicle, the Flex, moving across the page.

Esquire eInk Cover 6 Figure Development Cost
But is there hope behind the hype? According to the New York Times, Esquire spent six figures developing a battery small enough to fit into a magazine cover and still power the eInk gadget for 90 days. Could this investment show promise for advancing the cause of eInk reader technology? Well, probably not. Not if they have a future of disposable electronic periodicals in mind. And what else are paper-thin batteries good for?

The Environmental Consequences of Esquire's eInk Cover
So just how much of an environmental disaster is Esquire's misguided eInk escapade? Fast Company did the math. Accounting for manufacture of the batteries and display in China, assembly of the magazine covers in Mexico and then delivery to newstands in refrigerated trucks (to preserve the delicate batteries!), Fast Company estimates:
"150 tons of CO2 equivalent, similar to the output of 15 Hummers or 20 average Americans for an entire year, and a 16% increase over the carbon footprint of a typical print publication."

So is there an upside? Well, perhaps the outrage will prevent any further foolishness with disposable electronic periodicals. And we hope the publishing industry puts its thinking cap on, and comes up with proposals more like the French media did: newspapers get together to sell digital reader.

"This is really the 1.0 version," said Kevin O'Malley, Esquire's publisher, in the New York Times. We hope it is version 1-point-NEVER-Again.

More on eInk and Electronic Readers:
Electronic Books Are Catching On
French Newspapers Get Together to Sell Digital Reader
Electronic Books: The Next Chapter
TreeHugger Forums
More on the Esquire eInk Fiasco:
Fast Company
New York Times

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